School holidays are back … again. Don’t press the panic button just yet.
The Western Downs ticks plenty of the ‘escape to the country’ boxes with none of the crowds, long distances or associated costs of getting there.
Green time? Check.
Very little ability to access screen time? Check.
Educational? Check, check!
Load the troops into the car and make tracks with this five-day school holiday itinerary through the Western Downs.
Day 1: Swap Brisbane for The Bunyas
First things first – there’s little to no phone reception up here (cue the applause from mums and dads around Australia).
If you’re travelling with kids to the Bunya Mountains, you might want to break the news to your digital natives once you’re on the road (and their resistance becomes futile).
From Brisbane, take the Bunya Mountains Scenic Drive, which takes almost three hours from the city following the little brown signs with a pine tree on them.
Unless you’re the kind of family who camps or caravans, you’ll want to book one of the 100+ holiday homes via the Bunya Mountains Accommodation Centre.
Their holiday houses come in all shapes and sizes to suit expanding modern families (read: grandma, grandpa, nannies can come too) with full kitchens, multiple bathrooms and fireplaces for curling up in the cooler months.
Whether it’s the fact there’s no phone reception or the traditional owners of the land once used this part of the country as a meeting place – there’s something about the Bunyas that will leave you more connected to one another than before you arrived here.
Day 2: Explore a natural history museum
If you thought your family were foul tempered when hungry – just wait til’ you hear the colourful king parrots and crimson rosellas calling for their breakfast.
These feathered friends are motivated by wild birdseed – and with a bit of persuading, they’ll make your balcony bird feeder their cafe of choice if you want to get up close and personal.
That’s not where the animal encounters start and stop though. Take the family’s sneakers out of the gym to explore the walking tracks of the Bunya Mountains National Park. There’s a walk to suit all ages and fitness levels – from toddler-sized 500m circuits up to teenager-ready 10km round trips.
The Bunya Mountains are a living natural history museum – by age alone, this mountain ridge dates back 30 million years.
Like a kaleidoscope of natural environments – during your walk you can expect to see a mix of dry and wet rainforests, grasslands, open forests and woodlands that cover the mountains.
The aptly named Bunya Bunya Track is our pick. This 500m, 10-minute-long walk that takes off from the Dandabah camping area is like a hype-reel of what makes this 30-million-year-old landscape so famous.
If you’re travelling from February to March be extra careful because Bunya nuts are known to fall from trees. At eight kilograms per nut … they might, well, hurt your nut.
Day 3: See a record-breaking fence
If you thought cute country towns were just reserved for the movies – prepare to be proven wrong in Jandowae, 50km north of Dalby.
This town wears early grazing history on its sleeve with the Dingo Barrier Fence, the longest fence in the world, starting at the northern end of town.
It’s hard to miss – the fence is 5600 kilometres long and stretches all the way from the Western Downs to the Great Australian Bight, crossing three States and a desert.
Built in 1880, this fence protects livestock from dingoes and though it isn’t without its challenges (and challengers), it’s still used and maintained today as a dingo prevention for graziers.
In fact, before the completion of the fence one station alone lost over 11,000 sheep in one year due to wild dog attacks.
For a fence that’s 138 years old it’s looking pretty good with many of the original wooden posts, strainers, star pickets and netting still intact.
Take a photo at the fence – or better yet – the two-metre-tall dingo sculpture created by Scottish artist, Andy Scott, outside Jandowae Cultural Centre.
Day 4: Discover a living classroom
With a population as big (or small!) as most primary schools (341) – it’s easy for your little ones to understand the size and scale of Meandarra, a town 170km south-west of Jandowae.
What this town might lack in population, it makes up for with cattle, sheep and history which is served up by the bag full.
A visit to the The Meandarra ANZAC Memorial Museum brings the bravery of the ANZACs to life, through a display of military memorabilia, carefully preserved by a team of volunteers.
The most surprising attraction of course is the Canberra Bomber which you’ll find suspended from the ceiling of the museum.
If the kids lose interest before you finish all the interpretive signage, you’ll be happy to know there’s a kids corner too, which will make your Meandarra adventure all the more child-friendly.
Day 5: Hear the bells
You know you’re in cattle country when you visit a town famous for a bell used to locate herds of cattle when they’ve strayed into the bush.
Learn more about the Condamine Bullfrog Bell by following the interpretive signage in the main street of town.
More than just a town famous for a bell, Condamine has other keen interests – fishing and rugby are only but two, which sometimes combine when the Condamine Cods are playing.
If you’ve been carting your rod and reel for nearly 500km on this itinerary, wet a line in Condamine.
The Condamine River needs no introduction to keen fishermen – it extends to the Border Ranges near Killarney covering a catchment of nearly 2.75 million hectares.
This town loves its fishing so much it even built a fish ladder – a means to help native fish ‘step’ their way over the weir wall when the river’s flow is low.
Don’t worry if you’re not a fisherman, you can still eye-off a sizeable catch at the local freshwater fish farm.
If the fish weren’t biting, there’s no need to stay hungry. Head to the Condamine Pub for a good serving of pub grub – fish is on the menu!
Day 6: Return home via the southern-west trail
With the family’s circadian rhythms humming as nicely as the cicada rhythms you’ll hear at sunset out here, take the family back to home base with one last stop into Dalby.
Take the 135-km drive from Condamine to Dalby via Kogan, a town which your kids might be interested to find has nothing to do with Australia’s largest technology store, despite bearing the same spelling.
Take the Dalby-Kogan Road returning back to Dalby through scrub-lined highway where it’s not uncommon to see an echidna or two grazing by the side of the road.
Get your lunch fix at Butchers Pantry Coffee & Takeaway who serve the ‘best burgers in town’. If you’re needing a sweet treat before you hit the road, choose from their range of homemade goodies such as cookies and cream cheesecake or Anzac slice.
Trust us, this cafe will leave a great taste of the Western Downs in your mouth.